Review: To Catch a Spy – The Art of Counterintelligence

5 Star, Intelligence (Government/Secret)

James M. Olson

5 Star Indictment of US Counterintelligence

Despite this book being a decade late (the author left CIA in 1998) and somewhat lacking in deep specifics, I have to give it five stars because my own personal experience suggests that the author's gracious indictment of US counterintelligence is so desperately needed that it would be a crime to diminish this book. It's central message is sound: counterintelligence is vital and the USA stinks at counterintelligence.

Personal Experience: As a CIA clandestine case officer, with five times the regional average in both agent recruitments and foreign intelligence reports production, I now realize that my extraordinary production was directly related to my not being trained properly, nor held accountable for, absolute security. I now realize that every agent I managed, every developmental I courted, was “blown” to local liason and the Cuban intelligence service.  This is a deeply humbling retrospective insight.  Most CIA case officers work under official cover and live “impunity” as well as “immunity,” not “cover” and certainly not cover backed up by 3-5 hour Surveillance Detection Routes (SDR). I would make SDR like the Marine Corps' version of Land Navigation. Pass the final exercise or don't pass at all….and then I would have CI teams training on our own people all over the world, holding Stations accountable for proper SDR.

Personal Experience: As the HQS desk officer responsible for counterintelligence against a denied area target, I failed every Chief of Station worldwide on their failure to perform. This delighted Bill Casey for a moment and ended my career, compounding my earlier refusal to take a job on Covert Action Staff (CAS) when Ted Price was Chief of Career Management Staff (CMS). Counterintelligence is simply not taken seriously by the CIA or anyone else including the FBI.

Personal Experience: The National Security Agency (NSA) does not provide direct Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) support to either FBI counterintelligence within the USA or to the clandestine service overseas (and I would add, to military counterintelligence).  NSA is a travesty. They are focused on budget building, mass surveillance, and blackmailing Members of Congress.  They are not focused on catching traitors including dual US-Israeli citizens that place Israel First, always, nor are they focused on stopping commercial espionage by the Chinese or others. We simply do not protect our government and commercial secrets at the same time that we have far too many bad secrets.

While the book has flaws — it is not in any way a tome on cyber-vulnerabilities such as I and three others warned against in 1994, it does make the point that we are cyber-stupid, not comprehensive, and oblivious to financial and other forms of strain. The author is quite clear: our security investigations stink, our polygraphs are not sufficient, workplace observation and warning does not happen, and we are missing — these are MY numbers: 500 traitors within the US Government and 5,000 traitors across the totality of the US economy and society. The FBI — this is my opinion — is a monstrous joke — a theatrical agency not the least bit capable of nailing more than a tiny fraction of traitors.

This is an important book that merits being read word for word. The author built this book around his earlier Ten Commandments of Counterintelligence that I will list here:

1. Be Offensive
2. Honor Your Professionals
3. Own  the Street
4. Know Your History
5. Do Not Ignore Analysts
6. Do Not Be Parochial
7. Train Your People
8. Do Not Be Shoved Aside
9. Do Not Stay Too Long
10. Never Give Up

There are flaws in this book — it glosses over the totality of Zionist and United Kingdom spying on the USA including the bribery and blackmailing of most Members of Congress, and there is no deep discussion here of commercial espionage or the degree to which France and Germany among others, are at least as intrusive against the USA as are the author's top threats, China, Russia, and Cuba.

I totally concur with his view that the Cubans are the best in the world and if John Sears is still alive, hope I can have this conversation with him one day. Two of my classmates were nailed in Cuba by 20 agents all of whom passed the polygraph such that the Cubans could set up cameras covering every operational act (this became a public television spectacle later), and I realize now in retrospect that the Cubans “owned” the street and successfully blew every agent my largest station handled (where I was responsible for one third of a ten case officer station's recruitments), while also deviously sucking us into all manner of entrapments via local liaison to probe our state of the art across breaking & entry to documentation and disguise and so on.

There are two complements to this book — while the author provides a listing of other counterintelligence books at the end, I think he misses the point. To achieve a VISCERAL understanding of why being “black” when meeting an agent matters, there  is no substitute for these three books by an officer who was a generation behind me:

Review: Red Sparrow (Espionage Fiction)

Review: Palace of Treason (Espionage Fiction)

Review: The Kremlin’s Candidate (Espionage Fiction)

The best other counterintelligence books in terms of scope, the first cited by the author, are these:

Review: Traitors Among Us–Inside the Spy Catcher’s World

Review: Merchants of Treason–America’s Secrets for Sale

The author, intent on being gracious, fails to frame the challenge properly. I will be more direct. There are over 500 traitors within the US Government, and over 5,000 traitors across the US economy and society, that are living large and free because the USA is simply not serious about counterintelligence.

I will end with three books reviews on the present state of the craft of intelligence, and a final link to 300 reviews related to intelligence. The bottom line: every Director of Central or National Intelligence since CIA's inception been a virtual traitor: not serious at all about providing intelligence (decision-support) with integrity to ALL US leaders — the crap we have now at $100 billion a year produces “at best” 4% of what t he President needs and nothing for everyone else.

Robert Steele: Intelligence at a Cross Roads: To Be Or Not To Be… Review of Principled Spying by David Omand and Mark Phythian

Review: Facts and Fears – Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence by James Clapper

Robert Steele: The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies – Book Review

Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Intelligence (Most)

If I have learned one thing in my 30 years of being marginalized by CIA for championing Open Source Inteligence (OSINT), it is this: apart from the sensibility of not sending a spy where a schoolboy can go — you MUST access all open sources in all languages and mediums — if you do not get counterintelligence right, everything else you do is a fucking joke not worth the time or the money. And that is where we are today. Kudos to the author, however much he might have pulled his punches: this book matters.

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